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13/04/2007, Tauranga, New Zealand
The new year has started a while ago, and it started good, with Sofie visiting me, resulting in an epic roadtrip, a two week trip to Fiji and a long stay (again) in the Bay of Plenty !
December January - Roadtrip with Sofie
My dearest friend Sofie got here on the 21st of december and I planned a really busy travel week ahead. I pick her up at the airport and after an emotional gettogether, we hit the road !
First we made it down to Queenstown, visiting the beautiful lake Tekapo and crossing the Great Divide with scenery of the Alps of the South Island everywhere around us. We decided to try to camp as cheap as possible most of the time, and found a very scenic spot right at the lake near Queenstown. Ok, there might be some sand flies, but falling asleep beneath the stars reflection on the lake, waking up with the snowcapped mountains all around, beats all the little discomfort these tiny critters might bring.
We went straight thru to Milford Sound where we had a little run in with disaster. While I went to the toilet, Sofie decided to make sure the doors of the van are closed properly, assuming I had the car keys in my pocket… Milford Sound is one of the most remote spots in New Zealand, a place you don’t want to end up without fuel, or where you don’t want to call a locksmith… Luckily the next door neighbor, some older Dutch couple, has experience braking in with the good old coat hanger and screwdriver... Deja vu, exactly the same happened when camping with Sofie in Cadaques, Spain, 6 years ago, when the cops had skills to open our car !
No harm done, the next morning we were up early for a wicked boat trip in the sounds. It is a beautiful sunny day and the scenery is just breathtaking. This is probably the most touristy activity we will do on this road trip, but it is well worth it ! After this we cruise back thru Queenstown on to Wanaka, and further on to the West Coast where once again we can sleep next to a lake on a DOC campsite. We have a stopover at the Fox glacier where I go for a run and Sofie compares the glaciers front to the Perito Moreno we explored years ago in Argentina. Maybe not so impressive, but still more then the back garden we have in Belgium ;-)
The hurry of the last few days is to get to Abel Tasman national park in time for our prebooked kayak hire over Christmas. The Park virtually shuts down from the 24th to the 26th, so that means almost no boats on the water, no water taxis, very few hikers and deserted beaches for those in a sea kayak. And that is exactly what we wanted ! The first beach we stay at is just perfect. At low tide, its huge and some local kiwi family are celebrating there annual Xmas here, with plenty of beer, champagne and fun games. We join them playing petanque on the beach, I attempt some golf with a 6 iron, and we explore some small bays around the area. We decide to stay here an extra night and find a hidden lagoon around high tide which is just amazing. We are hoping to spot some dolphins, but we have to settle with a sleepy bunch of seals. Xmas on a beach in the sun, with some nice wine and food… This is close to paradise I dream of it. On Boxing Day we clean up camp and head for another small beach on the way back to the park entrance. We pass Frenchman bay and find our next camping spot deserted, just a private beach for us. In the mood for some more petanque we play the game with the shells we find on the beach while the sun starts setting and lighting up the sky in a palette of pastel colors.
The last day is pretty rainy to start, and before we really wake up there is already a bunch of daytrippers on ‘our’ beach. It’s the 27th and the hordes of tourists are back. Time to leave paradise for now, but not without finding another spectacular beach…
We need some rest and cleanup and head to Takaka, Golden bay, one of my favorite areas in New Zealand. We jump and splash in the water and check out he amazing sand spit, almost get chased by a huge fat sea lion at Wharariki beach and enjoy some local produce with a view.
We grab a real Italian pizza in Nelson on the Queen Charlotte track, where we stay at a ‘real’ camping. The bikes are cheap and the weather is perfect for a daytrip on the QC. Sofie keeps up very well and is pretty thrilled on the down hills as well, this is just awesome.
Early start the next morning as we take the ferry at 7am, Wellington here we come. To bad Welly is not that welcoming with the weather. Perfect for some hours in the Te Papa Museum, but way to wet for outside New Years Eve celebrations… After a quick dinner meal we head of and decide to head for some beach. We find one and open the champagne, some nice Catalunian Freixenet Cava ! Before we know we are asleep and missed the earliest new year on the planet. Yes, we were already having breakfast in 2007, when all of Europe was still counting down to midnight ! HAPPY NEW YEAR !
The north island has less mountains to offer but there is still plenty of scenery to enjoy, and, heaps of good surf ! We head for New Plymouth, driving around Mount Taranaki (Egmont), a perfectly coned shaped volcano, that shaped this peninsula, where apparently there is also some surf somewhere. We get all the way to Oakura and find a last power camp site on a fully booked little camping, right at the beach and the waves.
We head to the shops to find a nice second hand surf board, so both me and Sofie can take on the waves at the same time. In New Plymouth a proud shaper shows us his work place and tells us plenty of wicked stories, another great kiwi we meet on this trip. I find a 6’10 punter for just 300 bucks and the next few days try to ride it on the Oakura waves. The spot is great but after 3 days the waves are dying out. It is time to head somewhere else so we start heading for Tongariro, but not before some scenic and very very dusty driving on the kiwi dirt roads.
We are lucky with the weather and the moon, so we get up very early to start climbing the volcanic area referred to as the tongariro crossing. We arrive at the plateau and a wee bit later on the red crater and the emerald lakes, all but us, the morning sun and impressive scenery present. We own the place for 2 hours before the busloads of trampers arrive. Time for us to head back to the van, but not before tackling the world famous mount Doom (Ngurahoe). It is a steep climb and a very dodgy downhill, but well worth the views you get from mount Ruapehu on the south side.
Waaw, this was a long day, but we are still fit enough to visit the points of interests in Taupo, and head for a soak in the Kerosene Creek hot water river. Just perfect to smoothen those sore mussels.
In Rotorua we head to a thermal park with geysers, hot mud pools, traditional Maori welcoming and dance, and last but not least, two kiwis who live here in a special ‘night turns day’ kiwi shelter. Finally after 16 months in New Zealand I see my first kiwi ! We head to Tauranga, my hometown for 3 months early 2006, and meet up with my friends again. It is great to be back in a place were I know people and also Sofie enjoys the company of familiar faces for a few days. We surf, dive, BBQ, drink and relax.
Then off to the Coromandel peninsula where we surf the hotwater beach and then soak in the ‘dig your own hole’ hotwater beach ! In Haihei we walk to Cathedral cove but we have to camp elsewhere because the main campsite are still fully booked with kiwi families, enjoying there last summer holidays.
We move up far north next, stopping at Orewa for an indoor snowboard session and a backpacker place with a hot spa. We check out the huge Kauri trees and take a local ferry on the way to to Cape Reinga.
The campsite is awesome, but the sharks are not. Some surfers get out of the water quickly, just as we wanted to go in. Not very biog, but not small enough to ignore… Off to the Cape then, where the two oceans meet and everyone takes heaps of pictures. Just nearby we find an amazing DOC campsite with pretty good surf and atmosphere and no sharks. On the way south we pass the famous Hundertwasser toilet and try to find another good beach to enjoy some surfing.
We have to decide what to do the next few days, and weather and wave wise it seems best to head for another few days to Tauranga. We stopover at Waihi beach and stay at the best campsite we have ever been in, so modern, clean and friendly ! Luckily we get some waves here, and enjoy the walk to the nearby sandy beach.
The last few days we spend in Tauranga, hanging out with some mates, having some surf now and then, and contemplating about life. It is hard to say goodbye, but what has to be done has to be done. In the words of Eagle Eye Cherry:
"Go on and close the curtains
cause all we need is candle light
You and me and a bottle of wine
going to hold you tonight
Well we know I'm going away
and how I wish, I wish it weren't so
So take this wine and drink with me
let's delay our misery"
February 2007 - Fifi
When Sofie left decided to help out with the dive center in Tauranga so I could get some more dives done before heading to Australia. And then my buddy Rohan is getting married end of February, aargh, 2 weeks after my flight to Oz… So the obvious thing to to do is to postpone that flight to May, but my working holiday visa will expire soon. So I finally decide and arrange a 2 week dive and relax holiday in Fiji.
Fiji is pretty crazy. The first week I spent on Beachcomber Island aka Party Island. I arrive at 11am and the first thing I do is start drinking beer with the other new arrivals. You can snorkel , play minigolf, enjoy the evenings entertainment. But the highlights of the day are definitely the great food, served buffet style, and drinking with your new mates. So that’s about all I can master the next 5 days. Ok, I did do 2 boat dives, but I wasn’t very impressed, and I did manage to loose my flip-flops somewhere in the beach sand. The weather wasn’t too cooperating, well, it is the rainy season. I make some good friends though, and we have loads of fun, sunning, snorkeling, chatting and off course doing drinking games.
After a week of just partying I need to go somewhere else. I take the boat and manage to Nananu island lodge by taking 2 taxis, 2 minibuses, a big bus and another boat, all in the same day. This place is just stunning, it is perched at the base of a small hill, putting it out of the wind, with beautiful sunsets from the hill top, and great diving as the whole island is surrounded by a barrier reef. I get 8 dives done on some wicked coral blocks, heaps of swimthrus, loads of sea life, schools of barracuda, white tip reef sharks, nudibranches, cleaner shrimp,… And except for the great diving there is a great atmosphere, beers on the sunset place, cava sessions with guitar late at night, good conversations, beach volleyball, and total relaxation.
It is difficult to leave this place, but at least I had a chance to see it before it will be redeveloped in to a luxury resort…February – April 2007 – Bay of Plenty
And plenty it is. The last few months in Tauranga have been full of interesting moments and activities. My buddy Rohan got married in the sky ! He did a proper skydive wedding at the Matamata aerodrome, doing a ring exchange in the air and everything. I couldn’t resist and decided to do another sky dive myself, and honestly, it was even better then the first time !!!! The weeks after were pretty busy at the dive center and I helped out getting some Danish language school groups get there Open Water course. Good fun and loads of dives and experience gained. In between I try to go surf as much as I can. I am still a beginner, but I no longer hesitate to say I can surf when someone asks me if I do ( I used to answer ‘just trying’). Meanwhile the diving season hs stopped for a bit but I got back to Pete from the sailing school in Kulim Park and he offered me to get a power boat license level 2 in return for some help around the sailing school here and there. So I have been out on the little topaz, in the power boat and had my first half our of windsurfing done !
But soon I will go to Oz, get another campervan and drive up the East coast. Plan is to enjoy the best surf there is on offer, do the odd job on the way up north east, and finally find a good spot to get my scuba diver instructor license and first job experience with it near Cairns or Townsville !
I’ll keep you posted more often from now on, I promise !
It has been a long time, I know, since my last effort of updating this website. Sorry for that. I'll give you some highlights of my last 4 months in the South island of New Zealand.
Snow trip to Queenstown and Wanaka
As you might guess, the winter season was not finished yet in August, it actually continues well into October. The end of September me and Camille took some days of work to go riding down south. We drove straight to Queenstown where we met up with our Scottish buddy Neil. We went riding together on the Remarkables and Coronet Peak, Queenstown's nearest and famous ski field. The snow quality was pretty crap to what we were used to, the temps got up a lot lately so it was mainly riding through the slush. Nevertheless we had a great time, and some great party in Queenstown, the town where you spend your money way too easy (am I happy I based myself in Quiet Methven for winter).
Next we went to lovely Wanaka where Jessica set us up at her house. We went riding at Treble Cone, where Jess is a ski instructor. Treble is also loosing its snow quickly but the backbowl is still pretty filled up, although the overnight frost made it seriously hard stuff. Some of the gullies were so icy I thought I would never stop sliding. The front bowl is lower and because of the winds and particular weather it was possible to actually ride to the edge of the ski field. You would be standing on the ridge, snow on your right, bare tussocks grass on your right, awesome. This run had the well chosen name 'outer limits'. The return to the base was pretty much trying not to slow down and riding the patches of snow between the tussocks, very intensive.
The week passed way to quickly though, and before long it was time to get back to Methven and our jobs. The rest of the season consisted of some fun riding at Mount Hutt, which thanks to its large amount of snow was still good quality, even in spring conditions. A few little fresh dumps here and there made it even better.
The bunkhouse, my residence for winter, was also quite good fun. My Japanese got stuck somewhere with the same words and counting to ten, but it was great fun being around them. We did a BBQ at the bunkhouse, some week-end parties at Jeremy's house, a snowboard coach who switches from kiwi to Japanese season and back, me and Cami had some great week-end escapes to Banks peninsula, Mount Roberts, Mt Somers walkway,... Plus There was the great 'Peak to Pub' challenge, a race where the first team member rides down Mt Hutt, the second bikes downhill to the main road, the last runs 10 kms back to Methven, straight to the Blue Pub. We had a great time competing for fun, and 2 bunkhouse teams made it to the finish with no injuries other than minor exhaustion and dehydration. I ran my 10kms in